What Did Christ Save Us From?

Words matter, especially when it comes to the biblical responsibility of teaching. Those who lead do not have liberty to be careless or vague with their expressions. The word of God understood rightly is life to our soul (Proverbs 3:22), so there is much riding on the faithful exercise of preaching (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those realities have led me to this post. This past Sunday I taught a message from John 13 and used an illustration intended to point listeners to the seriousness of sin and the kindness of God in salvation. And while still agreeing with my premise, I had the overwhelming feeling Sunday evening that I had failed in clarity and precision.

Here is a summary of what I said:

“There is a well-known sign on Interstate 65N in Alabama that says: ‘Go to church or the devil will get you’. The sign indicates the problem is the devil and the solution is go to church. But consider first that you can go to church every single day of your life and still die apart from Christ having never been redeemed. And second, that the biggest threat to your soul is not the devil. Rather the sign should say ‘Flee to Christ or suffer the wrath of God’. What we are being saved from is not the devil. The devil is an enemy – yes. But the cross was to save us from the punishment for our sins. That punishment comes not from the devil, but rather from God. On the cross Jesus became the recipient of God’s wrath against rebellion. God the Father abandoned God the son, as he made him – in that moment – responsible for our sin.” 
– from The Jesus Series #50, Authority to Serve

My main purpose was not to ridicule the sign or those who put it up, but to get us to think about the nature of salvation. Christianity is not best understood through pithy sayings, but by deeply and thoroughly examining eternal truths. The issue is that in my own explanation regarding the work of Christ on the cross, I failed to paint a full picture of what endangers us.

Did Christ Save Us from the Devil?

My statement “What we are being saved from is not the devil” certainly needs further clarification. Indeed, Christ did save us from the work of Satan. Consider these passages: 

  • Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning since the beginning. But the son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8 (ESV)
  • Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15 (CSB)

The devil is the author of rebellion against God. In Genesis 3 he incites man to follow his practice of sin, the result of which is death (Romans 6:23). The devil then seeks to exploit the fallen nature of man to bring them to his will rather than God’s so that they are destroyed (2 Timothy 2:26) and thus he holds over them the power of death. But Jesus has come to destroy the devil’s work. Christ shared in our humanity, yet never sinned. While perfect, He submitted to suffering the consequence of our immorality through death on a cross. And He triumphed over the grave in resurrection, demonstrating that He has authority over both sin and its effects. By grace Jesus credits his perfect obedience to those who through faith sincerely seek his saving work. And He has granted us a spirit that loves God and finds joy in being led by him (Romans 8:15). So yes, our hope is the continual power of Christ to save us from the devil (Ephesians 6:11) which is why the kingdom of darkness battles to keep people from hearing and believing the message about Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Importance of Understanding God’s Wrath

The original reason I chose to use this illustration is that many who acknowledge spiritual realities believe their greatest threat is the devil. And indeed, motivated by hatred for God the devil aims to bring to destruction all that He can. We ignore this at our own peril ( 1 Peter 5:8). But the devil does not administer justice and does not have the authority to sentence people to everlasting death. It is God who is the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25); who pours his wrath out on the wicked (Romans 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus taught that it was wisdom to fear God as the only one who could cast a person into hell (Luke 12:5).

Many believers find it uncomfortable to talk about God’s wrath. We are tempted to conform to the world which has remade God in an image it can tolerate. With dwindling exceptions, mankind longs to conduct their lives as they choose without any thought of repercussions. Love in our culture increasingly means never saying someone is wrong. And so many have created an image of God that agrees with what they can accept: A God who would never judge anyone. The world cannot comprehend or accept a deity enthroned in glory who exercises judgement while maintaining unending, steadfast love. And most will never try. Mankind would rather reject any thought of divine punishment than accept responsibility for their own wrongdoing.

God’s Love for Rebels

I absolutely agree that those who follow Jesus should participate in a church that proclaims, relies on, and adheres to the Gospel. There is no picture of Christianity in the New Testament that does not include active participation in a community of faith. Furthermore, we are called to resist the devil in the power of God and the church is an integral part of God’s plan in this resistance. So, yes: Go to church and resist the devil. But remember that it is deadly dangerous to ignore the greatest threat to our souls, which is to fall under judgement for our sin. God is love, but His love is not exercised in allowing his creation to wander off in rebellion, living with themselves at the center of the universe. Rather He demonstrates his love by His willingness to put upon His own son the death due rebels, and subsequently share His own riches and honor with the ones who receive this gift of redemption.

The Church: Navigating Diversity

Minolta DSCTwo weeks ago I wrote to argue that the word of God compels the local church to seek to be diverse. When the surrounding community is able to see an uncommon group of people in deep fellowship, serving together in love & unity – it speaks to a greater reality than human engineering. While our flesh often leads us to relationships with people who best suit our personality and preferences, our good Father leads us to relationships with ALL people, regardless of exterior traits. Jesus is most glorified when He is seen as the common bond among an uncommon group; And when the local church is a beautiful picture of diversity, it is best reflecting the eternal picture of the church to come (Revelation 7).

This week we are speaking about how to navigate diversity. I think it is important for me to say first that I am not calling for diversity on issues that the bible clearly gives us a stance. In those cases, we must simply obey. Secondly, I am not just thinking of race, which is where a lot of our minds may go. Racial diversity is certainly a key component for us to best reflect the eternal church. But I am also thinking about diversity in backgrounds, economic classes, personalities, preferences and ages. Any of these issues can be used as a dividing line in a church, the exact opposite of what we are calling for in this article. A church that is building diversity must learn how to embrace and celebrate their differences. And this is often a hard task, choppy waters, at least at the outset. So how do we navigate diversity? Let’s consider a few scriptural principles in contemplation. We will not unpack these very much, but pray that the Spirit will teach us about each one:

First, let us desire to glorify God in obedience to His will more than we desire to be comfortable. Diversity is hard and we often find it much more comfortable to be around others like us. But God has appointed His church to exist in a certain form, which Paul argues is like a body with equal, yet different parts. The body – in order to function – needs the unique parts to operate in unison. The body of Christ – likewise – is designed by the Father to have no divisions, and for each unique part to compliment the others, so the whole body functions as He has chosen. (Please read 1 Cor 12:14-26)

Second, let us remember that God intends for us to learn from one another. Scripture calls for the church to be made up of people willingly ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ‘. Mutual submission should lead us to gentle interactions even on points of disagreement. Living together in the wisdom of the Father, we will see that every person has something to teach us. We do not have everything figured out, and the possibility exists that someone else’s way is equally as valid as ours. Unique preferences and views on life do not have to be points of argument. The beauty of a garden in bloom is intensified with a variety of colors. (Please read Ephesians 5:15-21)

Finally, let us be willing to remain in relationship with each other, in loving toleration. How quickly could diversity be built (and how many church splits could be avoided) if we simply listened and obeyed scripture?  May God’s word, wash over our souls: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive‘ (Colossians 3:12-13).

Grace and Peace

David

 

The Church: Intentional in Diversity

country churchWhat should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church).  Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.

If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.

When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)

My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…

Grace and Peace

David

 

There is a Distinction

‘Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers’ – Psalm 1:1

 

The very first line in the book of Psalms is a simple introduction, yet a profound truth, that reminds the reader that there is a distinction between the Godly and the wicked. That there is a division between those who know and love God (the Blessed) and those who are at best indifferent or at worse outright opposed to God. And that division should be visible when the life of a blessed person is examined. How they live day to day (walk), the judgments and worldview that they take (stand) and the people they are in deep community with (company) should be a daily working out of this distinction.  Obviously, humanity opposes this idea. The prevailing thought of the cultural worldview is that there are many valid ways to live and that it is inexcusable to declare someone’s life choice as invalid. No one today is called wicked, simply because they do not acknowledge God. And we must recognize that this ideology has even taken a foothold among the church; among those who are ‘the Blessed’. The people of God are continually tempted by fundamental cultural thoughts AND by their own fallen nature to mimic the way of life of the wicked; the ways of those who do not yet know Christ.

The purpose of this meditation is not to pass judgment on the world; not to condemn the wicked. Human society – of every generation – has a judge who will eventually issue his order against them (1 Cor 5:12). Rather, it is those who identify themselves as ‘the Blessed’ who need the reminder: You are separate and distinct, so live by that reality. This is not legalism. The Blessed are not called to live in obedience to God and in light of His Kingdom in order to belong; rather they are called to live this way BECAUSE they belong. The Blessed are invited and commanded (simultaneously) to live by the commands of God (walk); to take their stances – on issues – based on His view (stand) and to allow their greatest influences to be their fellow Kingdom citizens (company).  And it is this distinction that the King uses to bring others into His Kingdom and to display His glory (Ephesians 3:10).

There is nothing more tragic than to see the Blessed living as the wicked. To do this, requires someone to re-design God as they want him to be. AW Tozer said that the ‘idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they are true’. May this never be us! May the Blessed know God as He is, and may their whole person (mind, will and emotions) line up with Him in joyful worship!

Repenting of Heartless Worship

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalm 51

This past Sunday at Agape we considered the danger of external-only, heartless worship. We read the words of rebuke from God to His people in Psalm 50; people who were ‘doing’ all the right things, but doing them for all the wrong reasons. Their hearts had drifted from their LORD, even while they outwardly continued to bring him sacrifices. With no heart of worship present, their attitudes, thoughts and actions no longer reflected the God they claimed to serve. God rebuked His people and reminded them ‘The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me’. If our heart is filled with thankfulness to God, then it will lead us to live in a manner that glorifies Him. This is why Paul said in Romans 12 ‘I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him‘. Ultimately, our heart is the motivation of all we think, speak and do. Hearts that are submitted in thankfulness to Christ, will overflow and lead us to be submitted in action as well: living sacrifices, not mindless ones.

What does this teach us as a church, as a people who gather every week to celebrate and corporately worship our God together? I believe it teaches us to consider our motivations. Is the gathering of the church something that we attend each week as part of that ‘overflow’ of thankfulness? Do we approach that time as a gift, eager to meet with our fellow faith family and magnify the Lord in Thanksgiving together (Psalm 69:30)? Or is it something we do sleepily, out of tradition or a sense of duty? I imagine that all of us who take an honest and deep look at ourselves would at some point reach the conclusion that our worship has become routine; and our gathering with other believers has followed suit. When we reach that conclusion, the next step is repentance not condemnation. Paul teaches that there are two types of grief (or sorrow) we may find ourselves under: Godly or worldly. How do we tell the difference? By the action we are led into. If we are under worldly grief, then we will be tempted to give up; to quit trying. In this context, perhaps we will be tempted from gathering with the church; to just stay home or leave the community to find another one (assuming the issue is the church itself and not us). On the other hand, a Godly grief will lead us to repentance: a desire to keep going, but in a new direction; a direction that more appropriately resembles true, living worship.

That is why I think the verse above is so appropriate. David wrote those words at a moment in his life when he became aware of his own guilty heart. Even as he had continued in his normal sacrificial routine, his heart had drifted and his behavior had followed. When he came face to face with his condition, caught in his sin, Godly sorrow led Him to cry out for God’s restoration: a pure heart, steadfast and willing spirit, restoration and sustaining. When we test ourselves and become aware of our own drifting from a true heart of worship, may this to be our cry! Perhaps this will need to be our prayer every day; or every Sunday as we prepare to gather together. But this we know: If we pray this with a genuine desire for repentance, our great God and Savior will be faithful to answer and help. Let us therefore go to Him with expectation!

In Every Church: Warts and Grace

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-7

Those of us who have spent any amount of time reading the New Testament are probably familiar with the church in Corinth and have probably formed some sort of opinion about them. Chances are, that opinion may not be favorable. Many of the warts or problems of the Corinthian church are well detailed in the pastoral letters that Paul penned and that we have read. The church was struggling with many issues such as divisions, lawsuits, purity, idolatry and even some level of disorder in their corporate gatheringsBut did you know that the church in Corinth was also filled with the grace of God? Did you know that the church there had been enriched, full of good speech and knowledge about Christ? Did you know that spiritual gifts were alive and active among the people? Paul opens up his letter to the church with just such a reminder and commendation. As a matter of fact, if you only judged the Corinthian church by the first lines of Paul’s letter, you might have the impression that the church was problem free. It is possible, if not probable, that visitors or occasional attenders to the church were unaware of its issues. The warts may have only been visible to those who were closely connected and taking part in deep fellowship with the community.

The fact is, that there are no perfect churches. Every church that belongs to Jesus will have its share of warts; problems will exist. The reason is because the church is made up of imperfect people, who are hopefully striving for Christ-likeness, but of course not yet realizing that goal in full. These problems are not always visible from a distance or even right away among newcomers. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of investment in fellowship and community before some of the warts rear their head. But eventually, they will come to the surface. They always do. At the same time we must also know this: Every church that belongs to Jesus will be filled with His grace. Christ has promised to be with His people, making His presence known when they gather in His name for His glory. So it is safe to say that every church that has an abundance of warts, also has an abundance of gifts. Just as our flesh will inevitably stir up conflicts, struggles and problems of various kinds; the Spirit of Christ is there to stir up peace, love, righteousness and an abundance of good works.

So what is our application? First, we realize that all of us – imperfect people – are ‘being joined and built together’ into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:21-22). There will always be problems inside of any faith community, but we are in this together. God is doing a work on us and in us – not just as individuals, but as a collective group of His people who are in need of His grace. Second, we must ‘put on love, which binds us all together’ (Colossians 3:14). There is a reason that the bible instructs us over and over again to love one another. As we are being built together in the grace of Christ, our love for each other will help overcome the problems that our flesh causes. When a church is filled with love for the Father and a love for each other, the warts will not divide them. ‘Love is patient and kind..it does not insist on its own way…it is not irritable or resentful…it bears all things’ (1 Cor 13). And so if we have put on this kind of love for each other, then the effects of that love among a church will keep the people together as they go. Finally, ‘take delight in honoring each other’ (Romans 12:10). If indeed the grace of Christ abounds in His church, then set your mind to focus on the good gifts of a church, rather than just the problems. One great way to do that is to intentionally honor each other. Take time and effort to show people in your community how valuable they are; how much you love them, how much they mean to you; in what ways they have helped you. It is very difficult to focus on a person’s shortcomings, while at the same time genuinely honoring them from your heart. Of course this is not meant to be a formula, or an all encompassing list. But let us be reminded that the church exists on earth – in part – to display the glory of God to a watching people. So may they see that the problems that seek to divide a church, are not as great as the grace that has brought it together.

 

Relate to Each Other by Gospel Principles

I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Ephesians 3:9-11

This past Sunday during our time in the word, I made the comment that as parents we must be careful to reflect Gospel principles to our children, rather than the prevailing ideals of our culture. Worldly principles convey the message that a person must earn their merit; prove their worthiness to be accepted. The Gospel, in response, clearly communicates that God has displayed His love for His children through Jesus; and that by grace through faith we are accepted; we are made worthy – not because of our actions but because of His mercy. You and I do not earn our position before God; Christ earned it on our behalf. And so the message that we need to hear from our Heavenly Father (and the message that our children need to receive from us) is that while from time to time He may be displeased with our actions, He is never displeased with us. His pleasure with us is based on Christ in us, and therefore it does not ebb and flow. So we need to ‘gospel’ our children in this same way.

A subsequent conversation that I had with someone in our fellowship reminded me of what a foreign idea this is to all of us – myself included. It is difficult to wrap our mind around it, while at the same time difficult to live out. How do we gospel our children? And by extension, how do gospel each other? And – should I even use the word gospel as a verb? Well, while I am not entirely sure about that one, here is why I use it as a verb: I believe the bible very clearly instructs the people who make up the Church, to relate to one another by gospel principles. As Christian families, the very core of how we operate should be based on God’s word to us. And even more importantly, as the family of God we must listen and obey when Christ teaches us how to live with each other. And we have to know going in, this will require a molding of our will and our preferences. We may have to move away from our upbringing or even reject our sense of how things should be done. Because as we have already covered, gospel principles typically find themselves in direct opposition to worldly principles. And all of us have spent our lives being inundated by the values of the surrounding culture.

What do Gospel principles look like? Well they are found throughout the word, specifically in many of the NT letters to the churches. They are too numerous to mention all of them here and too deep to dive into with any great depth. But let’s remind ourselves of a few: We should value other people in the body more than even ourselves (Phil 2:3); We should submit to on another (Eph 5:21) and speak the word to one another, teaching and even admonishing (Col 3:16). Toward one another we are commanded to be patient, gentle, kind and compassionate (Col 3:12 – really take time to think through those words, so that the meaning is not lost). We should not insist on our own way (1 Cor 13:4), we should be devoted to each other and go out of our way to honor our brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10 – honor means to ‘treat as valuable’). We are to make allowance for each other’s faults and if we get offended – quickly forgive (Col 3:13). Even when personalities collide – we are to accept each other (Romans 15:7) and go out of our way to not quarrel over disputable matters (Romans 14:1). We are not to criticize each other (James 4:11), we should listen well (James 1:19), we should not gossip at any moment (2 Cor 12:20), but rather encourage and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).

I could go on (you all know I could) but you get the idea. Last question: What is our motivation to gospel one another? Paul gives us the answer in Ephesians: because God is building something among us – in the church – that is counter-cultural; an institution unlike any other that displays HIS wisdom, not the worlds. If we live together and relate to each other as the world does, then we do not display Christ but rather we display our culture. That is not our calling. So I urge us church, consider these words. Discuss these principles in your Gospel Communities. Consider – how do we live by Gospel principles in our families and our faith family. And strive for it – for the glory of Christ.

Coming to Agreement

I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement – 1 Cor 1:10

If you have ever read through the letters of Paul to the church in Corinth, then you know that the congregation there had many issues. From the opening of his first letter, it appears that one of those issues involved ‘divisions‘ (a word that means schisms) among the people. Unfortunately, most of us know by experience that divisions in churches are common and can happen on any number of issues or personality struggles. But I want us to consider how Paul responded to this problem: He was grieved and literally implored or begged the people to resolve those divisions. Going even further, Paul pointed them in the desirable destination: That they would agree with one another and be united in the same mind and same judgments. At first glance, this call from Paul seems almost too ideal. Perhaps, we are tempted to think, Paul means that these people should learn to find things that they could agree on, so as to minimize those things they were divided over. After all, that is a common cry of our culture today – perhaps it was back then: Find common ground. But a deeper dive into this passage would lead us to a different conclusion. (Credit Dr. John Piper here for some excellent work I have read of his on this passage of scripture).

The Greek word for ‘Agree‘ means to ‘say the same thing‘. Paul is asking that the church speak on issues with agreement; one voice. But this is not just a call to say the same things and not mean them. Paul wants our very thoughts to agree, being displayed through our speech. That is why He calls the church to be united in the ‘same mind and judgement’. If, of course, our very thoughts and words agree, then it stands to reason that we will make the same judgement on every issue. So – what is the summary of this brief verse? Paul is not asking the church to ignore their divisions and find points of agreement.Paul is commanding them to replace their divisions with unity, by coming into agreement of thought and speech.

Wow. What a tall order this is! This is a far cry from how we operate in the flesh. Our typical mindset – especially in this country – is to embrace and honor individualistic ideas and accomplishments. And when it comes to joint collaborations – those who can figure out how to meld their own ideas with the ideas of others for some common good are considered great leaders or negotiators. But Paul is setting before the church a very different goal: Not to come to a place of compromise; but rather come to a place of absolute unity and agreement. And immediately we are tempted to think: How is that possible? How could we possibly expect any group of people – no matter how well meaning – to come to agreement in this day and age? What makes this plausible is that the bible does not present the world as we have grown accustom: a place of different views, truths and opinions that all have equal merit. Rather, the bible expresses that there is one truth, one opinion, one view – and one Spirit that applies those truths in the heart of the local church. The good and perfect gift of agreement and unity comes down from the ‘Father of lights’ (James 1:17) and it is realized when His people are willing to stop trying to find unity on their own strength; but instead realize that agreement can only be found as they pursue and abide in the presence of their Father, together.

Of course, this may sound great, yet still leave us with the question: How do we get there from here? I mean after all, this sounds like a long and probably difficult struggle. And the truth is, yes, it will be. But the bible does not leave us without direction. Paul talks about these divisions once again toward the end of 1 Corinthians by asking: ‘that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25). In other words, the opposite of division here in this text is to ‘care for one another‘. How do you find agreement in thought and speech? How does a church become united in ideas and opinions? By first, looking to the Father (together in worship, prayer and the word) to provide direction and guidance, while being willing to lay down our own opinions in favor of His. And second, by just loving each other; caring for one another. Rejoicing together, crying together, taking care of each others needs. And as we do those things, more and more we will stop looking for ‘middle ground’ and rather find ourselves standing in unity on the solid rock foundation of Jesus. Amen.